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Relationship Counselling informed by fairy tales.

Relationship Difficulties — admin @ 5:38 pm

What a historic few weeks we have had with the Royal wedding, the visits of Queen Elizabeth the second and President Obama with his First Lady, Michelle to Ireland. It has been interesting to watch and hear the reaction of ordinary people to each of these events and it poses the question of what these occasions mean for us who happen not to be influential world leaders or royalty. It appears a large majority of us were attracted to watching the royal wedding and the royal visit. So what is in it for us that holds our attention?

Domhnall Casey, Dublin Psychoanalyst, writes in the Sunday independent (22nd May 2011) of how our childhood fantasies are played out in our fascination with royalty. He says “it has nothing to do with a desire to be ruled by a king or queen but everything to do with childhood fantasies . . . representing an enchanting make-believe world that we all grew up in”. We are all familiar with the hero in the prince who rescues Snow White. Of course he was not a commoner but happens to be a wealthy prince. We also see examples of how the rescue role is reversed, where the princess frees the prince from a witch’s spell. Fairytales like ‘The princess and the Frog’, ‘Beauty and the Beast’…of course the frog and the beast both turn out to be (wealthy) princes as well. We all love a happy ever after and almost expect it in fairytales, films and books. This can leave us expecting the same from life and relationships and sometimes leaving us reeling in disappointment when it doesn’t materialise.

And so we turn out attention to modern day royalty where Kate Middleton, essentially a commoner, (albeit a wealthy one), gets to marry her prince. Of course we expected that she would be pleasing to the eye: it wouldn’t satisfy the fantasy if she wasn’t pretty. Most little girls love to dress up in princess clothes and tiaras and plastic jewels. In the unconscious mind of the girl is a desire to be a princess in her own right and to look for a guy who will treat her like one! How fabulous it is to actually see it for real, with a real princess dress and a real diamond tiara. It is like a fairy tale come true and we seem to have a need to believe that that’s possible amidst the drudgery. Pictures of Kate Middleton doing her shopping in the local supermarket a few days after her wedding evoked an interesting reaction among the public. It didn’t ‘look’ right. She challenged our fantasy and our idea of what a real princess is….someone that doesn’t do her own shopping for a start!

This idea of prince and princess, hero and heroine can be extended to include the Obamas who appear to have a perfect marriage and also retain such a powerful position in the world. Is it any wonder then that we want to claim them as our own? For the people of Moneygall and indeed Ireland, it seems to suggest that we all have the potential to assume positions of power in the world and happy ever after in our partner relationships. Modern day ‘fairy tales’ too seem to bring us nearer to having royalty within our personal grasp, even if it’s by marriage. In ‘Shrek’, an ogre finally gets to marry Princess Fiona who behind her aesthetic beauty has a lot in common with Shrek in that she is part ogre too.

For those of us in relationships it is probable that we can identify with the likes of Shrek and Fiona. Maybe this is a more realistic union, owing to the fact that neither party are perfect but together their union works. For us ordinary people struggling in relationships, it is important to be aware of what our expectation of our partner is. We are unlikely to be aware of it but deep in our psyche we have fantasies of being princes and princesses and of achieving the perfect union. No relationship is ideal by virtue of our being human. It is only with knowing and accepting the darker side of our self and of our partner that relationships become real and loving. A new kind of fairy tale perhaps with a different kind of grown up happy ending.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk, Co Louth.

Personal therapy and overcoming fear.

Psychotherapy — admin @ 7:34 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week our discussion was about not being here. Everyone who works as a therapist undergoes their own therapy. It is a core part of any training programme and it serves the therapist well in their work. In our practice we like to avail of our experience of our own personal therapies to continually keep in mind what the experience of coming to therapy is like. And even what it is like not to come at all. Because this week when we sat down to talk we drifted onto the subject of those days when you really don’t feel like going to therapy. You just don’t want to go there at all.

There was general agreement that an important part of getting past any reluctance to attend is to discover the reasons why you feel like avoiding therapy in the first place. Sometimes these things are difficult to put words on and instead of being openly discussed they get played out. What can happen is that we can cancel sessions at short notice or find any number of reasons to skip a week here and there. This all adds up to a playing out in our attendance or lack of it some inner fear about going to therapy. Things that are difficult to put words on are sort of a specialty of ours here and we find that if this fear can be gently and respectfully explored it can be overcome.

We feel that it is important not merely to try to overcome a resistance but rather in the first instance to respect it. What we are paying respect to in this regard are the very real reasons why that resistance might be there at all and where we might have learned it from. There may well be very good reasons why we feel resistant about something. These defences which we have built up over the course of our lives are in place in order to protect some vulnerability in us. We are firmly of the view that they ought to be treated sympathetically. At the same time we will make no progress if they are not faced in one way or another.

We might want to avoid therapy because we feel reluctant to face something painful from our past. Even though we might feel on one level that to work through this could be beneficial we may still fear that to bring it up may leave us feeling overwhelmed. We may have feelings of guilt, shame or regret and it would be natural to feel a temptation to avoid experiencing these again. Sometimes a good first step is to be able to say out loud that there is something difficult that we feel afraid to talk about and that we don’t want to talk about it. In our practice we are inclined to simply acknowledge this and the fact that it has resulted in a reluctance to go further. Then the way is open to explore what exactly it is that we are fearful might happen.

It could be that one fear is of what way the therapist will react. Building up a relationship of trust with your therapist is important in allaying this fear. It is not unusual either for us to try to minimise traumatic events to try to cope with them. We may be fearful of an explosion of strong feelings if we finally face up to these events. Sometimes a reluctance to engage may be about something more basic like a fear that you may not be fully heard or understood. It could be that you have experienced those same feelings at other times in your life and that the risk of a repeat is not worth taking. This is an understandable fear.

We would hope that to get in touch with an ability to discuss all these things with your therapist will open a path to more freedom in expressing the story of your life. Fears, resistance and defences can be overcome in a respectful atmosphere of honest enquiry. The purpose after all is not to hurt you in any way but to open up new ways of expression and new understandings. Our hope is to be present with you as these new insights are learned and mastered and as fear of the influence of the past is finally overcome.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

Wildfires, destruction and new growth.

Counselling — admin @ 1:55 pm

Here in Counselling Connection this week and last we watched with interest the story of wildfires in the hills both locally and in other parts of the country. There were regular updates on news bulletins and it seemed briefly that the country was transfixed by the spread of fire in the hills and the efforts of fire-fighters and volunteers to get on top of the situation. Experts explained that lack of rain for some weeks had increased the chances of fire especially taking into account the amount of dead vegetation remaining after the snow and ice of recent months. Despite the heroic efforts of many we were left at the mercy of the elements and it was a change of wind direction and the welcome sight of rain clouds that finally brought relief.

In our moderate climate we rarely have the extremes of weather, of ice and snow followed by dry, sunny spells that facilitate the spread of wildfires. Our reactions to these events as they unfold interest us here and we like to take time to pause and ponder and talk about what might be going on for people. Our modern lifestyles leave us somewhat insulated from the cycle of the seasons for example. We have electric light and central heating and can continue to live and work without paying much attention to light or dark. Only in the case of extremes does the weather impinge on the security that we have built up against it.

The changes in the seasons; and even wildfires are parts of a natural cycle. We can be quite fearful of the destructive force of nature and we try, where possible to keep it at bay. And we have succeeded in this to a large extent with the way we live. Similarly, and maybe even without being aware of it, we try to flatten out the cycles of ups and downs in our emotional lives. There may be natural phases in life where our happiness or satisfaction levels dip or peak like periods of drought or flood in nature. It seems like we do what we can to avoid what might not only be a natural process but one which may have certain advantages.

We seem to be more inclined for example to attach to a single partner for life. We may also live for most of our lives if not in a single house but at least in a single area. Similarly, we may work at the same kind of work for most of our lives, sometimes even in the same company. We gradually make our mortgage payments and scrimp and save into our pension funds. We keep our property in good order and we become regular in our habits, commuting and working, sometimes maybe suffering the present in favour of the promise of a better future to come. We may even cling to all these things, putting our hopes, dreams and expectations for some kind of salvation into how we live our daily lives. A wildfire of any sort that might threaten this status quo would be most unwelcome.

Wildfires do come in life however. This may be in the form of the breakup of a relationship or marriage or the loss of a job or in a build up of financial commitments which suddenly seems crippling. These things can happen gradually but appear suddenly and can really shake our world and our confidence. It is not uncommon in these times for hardworking, honest people to find that their house is now worth less that what they owe. This can be very distressing. A company that was considered blue chip a short number of years ago can now be barely solvent and under threat of collapse. And for the people who work for these firms and who have come to rely on them for a living and for making mortgage and pension payments it brings great uncertainty.

An economy can be depressed just like a person can. Getting out of a depression can often involve considering the things which were in place leading up to it and a re-ordering of these. In an individual it may mean looking at their career and deciding on a change of direction. Sometimes the catalyst for this is outside our control and this makes all the more difficult. It is also a painful fact that relationships come to an end. This also involves an amount of introspection and hurt and a coming to terms with fundamental parts of our selves. These things can all feel very destructive and threatening to the lives we have built up and indeed they are. However, from the ashes of an unwelcome wildfire in life we can find fertile ground for new growth. It may take an amount of courage and hard work and progress might be slow. We are fearful of major change in life and may avoid it until circumstances force it on us. The transformations; the new growth we can bring about in love and in work following a period of crises can be just reward for enduring the wildfires that life may bring.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

On learning how to trust.

Counselling — admin @ 2:11 pm

Here at Counselling Connections this week one of our number, who shall remain nameless, reported for work complaining of pains and aches. They had gone on a long cycle over the weekend; their first time out on the bike for some time and were feeling the after effects. They also had the enjoyable experience of teaching a child to ride a bike for the first time. It a wonderful thing to witness the exhilaration on a child’s face when they master this basic skill; it is something which had the feel of a rite of passage about it. All you need, it seems is the basic belief, in your body, that if you continue to pedal you will be able to propel yourself forwards. After that the wobbly steering and early mishaps become things of the past and are replaced by a confident, fluid motion; a mastery that we usually retain for life, even allowing for long periods out of the saddle.

This got us thinking and talking about trust. The first difficulty we encountered was to be able to say what trust is. It seems to be something that in the first instance we take for granted in life. Trust seems to be a default position. It seemed like we were heading towards the understanding that trust is in place until some event occurs that causes us to doubt it or to lose it altogether. When we reflected on this further it seemed to us that trust is actually learned in ways similar to learning how to ride a bicycle. That through being held safely as a baby a person develops a trust which they feel in their body. This trust gives confidence in our environment and even consolation in times of distress.

This carries us through the early developmental stages of life which include the exciting new adventures of learning how to walk and to talk. In these instances we do not know how to do either but we learn through a process of experimentation and determination.  We learn to trust that a step will take us to another and another and so on. We fall over and get up and try again. We see what it is that we want to achieve and we keep trying until we get it right. At this early stage in life we seem to be able to take the ups and the downs of successes and failures and to keep on trying. Our emotional lives would seem to follow a similar path where we learn to trust in the reassuring presence of the other.

As adults, in relationships and in life things can happen which can effect our trust in others or in our world. A loss of a job; a serious illness or difficulties in relationships can shake our sense of confidence in our world and the people in it. This presents us with the major challenge of trying to regain trust after it has been lost. In experiencing the hurt of a loss we can withdraw into ourselves in an emotional coil which does not allow the possibility of any risk as this might result in further hurt. Our confidence in the world, in our ability to move forward in it has been locked away. When we find ourselves in this state it is often difficult to take the first step out and we can become stuck.

Our hopes, dreams and expectations have met with disappointment in the world and we have to look over these and consider them carefully in order to re-launch ourselves. Therapy can be like a parent’s hand on the saddle of the bike, holding us steady as we launch ourselves back into the world. Depending on the level of our loss of trust our early steps can be quite tentative. It is hoped that through a process like this we can learn to trust again, taking into account what we have learned from our life experience and earlier losses. Most of all this is about learning about ourselves and having trust and confidence in our ability to move confidently through the world; a bit like learning how to ride a bike.

Counselling Connections, Dundalk.

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